Game of Thrones General

Are the White Walkers a metaphor for climate change?

Since “Hardhome” put the fear of the White Walkers into the hearts and minds of viewers everywhere, a theory has cropped up online that the White Walkers and their army of the dead are really an extended metaphor for climate change, a coming global catastrophe largely ignored by those with the power to actually do something about it. Over at Vox, Zach Beauchamp narrates a video drawing parallels between these two oncoming disasters.

The text of Game of Thrones is rich enough to sustain any number of metaphors (for example, the Wall has sometimes been analogized to overzealous attempts to stop illegal immigration), but the White Walker-climate change metaphor seems especially appropriate. Like Beauchamp says, the White Walkers literally change the weather when they approach, and the way certain southern lords ignore or deny their existence mimics the way certain politicians deny claims that climate change is a danger in our world. If left unchecked, both threats could wipe out humanity.

The one part I don’t think holds up is where Beauchamp analogizes the Night’s Watch to the “experts in the real world” who “stand on the sidelines.” Because the Night’s Watchmen are the only ones actually doing something about the White Walker threat, I’d say they’re more like the real-world scientists who are lobbying world leaders to do something about climate change. If anyone’s standing on the sidelines, it’s all the southron lords too busy squabbling with each other over their rights to the Iron Throne to deal with the threats up north.

Also, George R.R. Martin has alluded before to thinking about climate change when crafting his narrative, or at least recognizing that it’s a valid analogy when analyzing the events in his novels. Here’s what he had to say during a 2013 interview with Al Jazeera America:

I mean, we have things going on in our world right now like climate change, that’s, you know, ultimately a threat to the entire world. But people are using it as a political football instead of, you know … You’d think everybody would get together.

This is something that can wipe out possibly the human race. So I wanted to do an analogue not specifically to the modern-day thing but as a general thing with the structure of the book.

It’s worth noting that Martin wasn’t actually saying that he meant the White Walkers to stand in for climate change here, only that it was valid interpretation. Ultimately, it goes back to the suppleness of the text. Game of Thrones is well-written enough to be many things to many people, and if inspires discussion of climate change, all the better.

You can read the original article by Dr. Charli Carpenter, the one that inspired the Vox video, here.

32 Comments

  • One could interpret all kinds of things, but it seems unlikely that Martin intended the White Walkers to symbolize global warming/climate change (in reverse!) when he first created them. Martin started writing Game of Thrones in 1991, and it was first published in 1996. While there was discussion about the “greenhouse effect,” etc., back then, it wasn’t as mainstream as concerns over the hole in the ozone layer or other kinds of pollution.

    Plus, remember that in Westeros/Essos, winter can be short or last for many years, and that seems to fluctuate unpredictably throughout history. That kind of natural fluctuation sounds closer to the arguments of those who are skeptical that climate change is man made.

  • Well, both are fictitious, so. . .

    I lived through the 70’s – we were all supposed to have frozen to death by the year 2000.

    Same schlock, different decade.

    Study history, doomed to repeat, etc.

    • Too true. These pathetic attempts to hijack any piece of literature or cinema and link it to climate change. Sheesh, these people are lame. The sad part is climate change is perfectly natural, the Sahara desert was a jungle roughly 5000 years ago. Ocean levels rise and fall. Never once has the level of O2 in the atmosphere or CO2 been constant. It alters over time, fluctuates over millenia. There have been ice ages and periods of extreme warmth. The earth is a vibrant ecosystem constantly changing. Looking back ten years and freaking out because the winters are colder or not as cold is just dumb.
      Are we affecting the environment, yes, we are. But one person or a million people wearing hemp and eating vegan isnt going to offset the billions of European,American,Chinese, Indians, Africans and Middle eastern people who couldnt be bothered. The church of Al Gore have good intentions but like all theologies they’re too blinded by their faith.

      Hopefully this is the last Global Warmist propoganda and pandering on this site.

    • I lived through the ’70s too, and nobody was predicting freezing to death by the year 2000. But we were saying, ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.’ And that’s every bit as true now as it was then.

    • Follow the Money

      Are you for real? Are you denying the work of thousands of scientists in many different fields from all over the world?
      Ok its possible it may be slightly exaggerated but its not fiction.
      GRRM is a highly intelligent, highly informed writer. If he alludes to climate change being a pertinent issue and possibly having metaphorical significance in his novels, I believe him.

    • Uh, no. You know where this “Global Cooling” idea – the idea that back in the day, scientists said the earth was cooling, now they say it’s warming, so what do those wacky scientists actually know – comes from? The entire idea springs from a small spate of magazine articles in the mid-late 70’s that put an alarmist spin on a hypothesis that had some minor popular awareness throughout the 1970’s but never actually gained any significant support in the scientific community.

      This is in stark contrast to the widespread scientific consensus that the earth experienced warming throughout the 20th century, and that anthropogenic sources are the primary cause. Conflating the two is maliciously disingenuous.

  • Yes, there have always been climate cycles, but the internal combustion engine has hijacked them in a way that is completely unnatural. It has been 12,000 years since the end of the last Ice Age, so based on past cycles, we should be getting back into a cooling trend again. And it’s not just the past ten years; it’s the whole past century. You can make fun of Al Gore all you like, but ignore the urgent warnings of 99% of climate scientists at your peril. I greatly fear that my grandchildren will not inherit a habitable planet.

    • Maybe i was a bit snide with the Warmist remark, i apologise.
      I’m just a bit miffed at this article which seems like blatant propoganda. I mean i could easily claim the White walkers represent the alternatives to Christianity and the devastating winter and Long Night metaphors for the moral and spiritual decay in the absence of God in peoples lives. I could, but im not deluded or trying to convert or hock something on other people.

      The whole premise of this article is flawed. I know its an opinion piece but its completely off base. Its obviously an attempt to link ASOIF to Global Warming. If thats allowed then where do we draw the line. I dont think politicising a series of books and films we all enjoy is beneficial. Whether your liberal or conservative, theist or atheist, Christian or Muslim this site should be for all and not skew topics in favor of one or another group.

      • Skewing something in favor of people who believe in Anthropogenic Climate Change is a bit like skewing something in favor of people who believe the earth is round.

      • It’s not trying to skew, it’s just suggesting an interpretation. It’s not “politicising” because it’s trying to interpret the intentions of the author who may have actually thought about this. Plus, every work of literature speaks some sort of “universal truth”. For ASOIAF it’s obvious how much it is about the way petty squabbles over power can distract from real, bigger problems. The fact that those problems HAPPEN to be of climate-related nature in the books might or might not be because it’s a metaphor for climate change, but it’s not like suggesting it is detrimental to the enjoyment for anyone.

        Also climate change itself isn’t even a political matter. It’s science. When 99% of climate scientists support the thesis of climate change, do you think they could all be left-wingers? And actually, as a scientist working with scientists, I can tell you, most of us tend to be moderate on the political spectrum, in either direction. We’re mostly people with a general dislike of blind faith, in either gods or ideals, because of our professional habits.

        What IS political is choosing what to do about climate change. Which can range from “let’s rebuild our entire energy system from scratch” to “fuck it, I’m rich, I’ll pull through”. The scientists can only give advice there, just like a doctor can suggest you the best cure for an illness but you’re still free to go to an acupuncturist or an homeopath.

  • Can be a metaphor for anything to anyone. Depends in which “bubble” a person lives and eventually will see almost everything as something related to their ideals, even when (probably most of the time) is not even there.

  • Why do you miserable hate filled climate blaming goregressives call yourselves; “progressives” when you are more like fear mongering agressives?

  • You can look for any sort of symbolism you like, and construct whatever arguments for which you can find evidence in the canon. That’s perfectly legitimate literary criticism. But how is it a stretch to find climate-related metaphors in a story that’s all about a world where seasons are not normal cycles based on the planet’s revolutions and tilt, and where the coming of winter is a matter of life and death for millions?

  • Mememine69, can you please explain where you get the notion that people who want to save the planet before it’s too late are ‘hate-filled’? (Besides Faux News, I mean.)

  • why are political issues being headlined on this site now? i miss the old days, stop with this shite. i like the show, liberals and conservatives like the show…stop with the social justice warrior BS, and the dumb conservative point of views in the comments….all of us need to stop taking sides on these issues, whether we agree or disagree with the point of view of the moderators…everytime one of these posts come up we need to berate the moderators for stirring political bullshit…the books and the show are great, we enjoy it and like to discuss the differences between the books and the show, and we despise political commentary about it. no one watches this show to make a political or social point, enjoy the fucking ride

    • It’s not a standard Action and adventure show, it’s incredibly political series. I think GRRM goes for more universal themes than Democrat vs. Republican, Liberal vs. Conservative, but the themes are still absolutely there.

      And the fact that so many people are willing to watch, enjoy, and give different interpretations, is an incredibly good thing for the show. Promotes more discussion and gives it a gravitas that wouldn’t exist if it was more of a standard good vs. evil thing.

    • You know what boggles the mind? The idea that anthropogenic climate change is considered even remotely “political”.

    • Yeah, because clearly a show that makes a point of showing the dangers of religious extremism, of political paralysis, of bad diplomacy and bad government, has nothing to say about politics at all.

    • It wasn’t changed, they are two different things. Educate yourself, the net is full of information.

    • It went from “global warming” to “climate change” because “global warming” gave the wrong idea, namely that it meant that the temperature would rise EVERYWHERE. Instead it means it will rise on average, but that could mean that it rises, say, 5 degrees here, but lowers 3 degrees in another place of the country. That’s because climate is pretty complicated (with winds moving air around and all), so it’s impossible to predict the exact effect. But that doesn’t mean that if your place gets colder it’s enough to say that climate change is a scam – it just means somewhere else it’s getting even hotter.

  • Is it possible to, just once, open an Internet comments section and not despair for the future of our species?

    All signs increasingly point to ‘no.’

  • “Climate change” and “Game of Thrones”: clickbait if there ever was any. The Vox article’s analogy gets it bass ackwards though. The powers that be are the ones pushing the man-made global warming theory. If you analogize the Great Houses to national governments, all of them believe in global warming and are the ones raising the alarm. The skeptics are the ones on the outside looking in. The global warming skeptics are the equivalent of the Wildlings, Northmen and the Watch who are having their beliefs belittled and dismissed as superstitious, ignorant and unscientific. The believers in global warming occupy the positions of power be it D.C., London, Paris, New York, Brussels, Berlin or whatever analogizes to King’s Landing. So, the better analogy is the White Walkers are an allegory for global warming/climate change HYSTERIA.

  • The white walkers represent a heart attack.
    The nights watch represents Martins doctors.
    The southern lords living a decadent life style and ignoring the threat represent Martin.

  • The earth has been heating and cooling itself since the beginning of time. It knows what to do. Has nothing to do with climate change.

    • I must agree with James. Except that the White Walkers symbolize my cold wet pussy coming for all that lively DICK! It is known.

  • This is quite easily the most absurdly dumb extrapolation of literary interpretation in a nonsensical attempt to push a political agenda based on faulty computer models that media personalities & politicians attempt to marginalize as “science.”

    In short, the author’s rationale is that, “everything is a metaphor for climate change, because I want to believe in it because save the planet or something.”